5 key AI trends in customer engagement

Digital overload is leading to more authentic trends in business. Find out the top five in a new Twilio report.

There are five new artificial intelligence (AI) trends in customer engagement, according to a just-released report from Twilio, a cloud communications and customer engagement platform.

Trend one: Consumers want real conversations

Digital overload creates a shift to authentic, two-way communication. 

People have reached digital overload with social media alerts, push notifications, messages, robocalls, and chat bubbles coming from all sorts of apps, websites, and platforms, an estimated 63.5 notifications daily per person.

The rise of social media pushed communications into the public sphere 10 years ago, where broadcasting to the widest audience dominated, and now people prefer secure, 1-to-1 or group channels. 

This evolution is an opportunity for businesses to develop authentic connections with their customers through personalized, dynamic conversations. Businesses must prepare to have two-way conversations with their customers on multiple channels over time in order to deliver a positive experience. 

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Image: Twilio

To combat the barrage, readers now need a connection to the writer, one that fosters a sense of loyalty.
Twilio research showed only 12% of global consumers want to be reached via a company's mobile app. "A company's mobile app will become less relevant as brands make themselves available on the communication channels where consumers already exist—email and messaging in particular," said Sara Varni, CMO at Twilio.  

SEE: Artificial intelligence: A business leader's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Trend two: Conversational AI is everywhere

Interaction with AI is common and transactional. 

The trend is towards conversational AI, which includes bots, virtual assistants, and communication platforms powered by machine learning. However, the limits of conversational AI can be confusing to consumers, thus expectations are unmet. Consumers still mostly trust bots and assistants for simple tasks which make life convenient, like checking the weather or asking quick questions. Use of virtual and voice assistants continues to rise, with Google's Assistant deployed across one billion devices, and Amazon reporting sales of 100 million Alexa-enabled devices in 2019. 

Chatbots and virtual assistants are just the tip of the iceberg. 

There is a major opportunity for businesses to deploy conversational AI to create proactive, ongoing dialogue with customers, rather one-off, reactive, or transactional interactions. 

When properly leveraged, the report stated, conversational AI and Natural Language Understanding should benefit every level of the business from day-to-day customer interactions to backend operations.  

Trend three: Robocalls kill trust in the phone

The rise of robocalls in the U.S.—the year Americans stopped answering the phone.

In the US in 2019, the number of robocalls doubled from 2017: 58 billion robocalls were placed in 2019, equaling roughly 178 calls per person affected.
 
The result? People grew skeptical of callers and simply stopped answering calls from numbers they didn't recognize. The report cites HBO's Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver and its episode dedicated to the plague of robocalls, which motivated consumers into becoming constituents who lobbied their legislators to act. 

This increased media attention demonstrated a need for "industry-wide cooperation to mitigate robocalls" and to create "standards and regulations to guide the telecommunications ecosystem."

Consumers need to trust a brand, and businesses can rebuild that trust by identifying that they are the caller, which can be done through verification and sender ID protocols like STIR/SHAKEN. The restoration of consumer faith in all digital communications--particularly the phone--needs to be the result of, noted the report, "partnerships across the entire communications ecosystem, from carriers and providers to public policy officials and government agencies."

Robocalls will be addressed in 2020. "SHAKEN/STIR protocol, in conjunction with other industry efforts, will create a dramatic change in the robocall landscape in the next 12 to 18 months," said Len Shneyder, vice president of industry relations at Twilio.

"AI and ML are a natural fit for stopping illegal robocalls, continuing to improve cyber security, and identifying and blocking online disinformation," Shneyder said. "Much of what is happening with regard to illegal robocalls, cyber security, and online disinformation, is the result of automation. Machines can analyze information faster, react quicker, and engage at a scale larger than humans ever could." 

Trend four: Politics moves beyond the polls

New channels create new opportunities to engage voters and constituents. 

The dearth of communication channels is a boon for civic and political engagement. The report found that in the US, "newer platforms like apps and peer-to-peer messaging are becoming ubiquitous, while standard channels like email and text are improving with better analytics and rich features (RCS). As a result, campaigns and political advocacy groups are beginning to leverage digital channels to expand their reach and engage constituents in new ways."

Digital channels are being used worldwide, increasingly for polling, organizing, fundraising and all kinds of political engagement.

Twilio research acknowledged the vast opportunities for political advocacy groups and campaigns to optimize engagement, and shows consumers prefer to use different channels based on the urgency and type of communication, for reaching out to constituents, volunteers and organizers. Political organizations need to be "mindful of best practices and contextual preferences for the specific medium" they use. 

"A Twilio study on the efficacy of U.S. presidential campaigns using email found that only 3.8% of campaign emails sent landed in the primary tab of constituent accounts. A majority of messages were not delivered or routed to a secondary tab because basic best practices weren't followed."

However, if those organizations and campaigns use best practices for the channel they use, they might reach all demographics for their chosen/preferred communications method. The report noted, "the potential to galvanize and engage people with communications technology has never been greater."

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Image: Twilio

"Political campaign cycles continue to lengthen, which requires campaigns and advocacy groups to engage their constituents earlier than ever before," said Shneyder. "In response to a seemingly endless election, the political engagement industry will grow rapidly as needs for their services become consistent versus seasonal." 

Trend five: CX is the differentiator

Businesses walk in customers' shoes, and it pays.

Customer service is what sets brands apart from the competition. Twilio cites research from Forrester (76% of executives cite improving customer experience as a high or critical priority), Accenture (75% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company which knows their name, purchase history, and recommends products on preferences), and LinkedIn (increased demand for specialized talent as the field of CX gains importance).

More companies are investing in customer experience, talent, and strategy, which might mean using CX for existing strategies or a more fundamental shift. Business pioneers improve CX by replicating customers' actions.

"Bots and voice assistants are barely the tip of the iceberg of what conversational AI technology can do," said Al Cook, vice president and general manager of AI at Twilio. "Over the next few years, we'll see the smartest businesses use the technology to transform the very nature of how every department solves problems. Conversational AI will turn anecdotes into real data, and provide true insight into how the business is performing." 

Methodology

Twilio's "The State of Customer Engagement Report" was compiled based on the company's 170,000 customers.

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